The downside to working with passionate, committed people is that sometimes, you’re going to disagree on the best way forward. Best-case scenario, colleagues listen to each other’s point of view respectfully, and work together to come to a consensus that achieves the team’s goals.
Of course, that best-case scenario is often hard to achieve, especially when you’re working under tight deadlines and high expectations. Tensions rise, tempers flare and before you know it, you’re stuck in a seemingly unresolvable team conflict. What were once differences of opinion are now stakes driven firmly into the ground, and neither side wants to cede their position.
So, how can you move forward when your team is deadlocked?
How to Resolve Team Conflict:
1. Don’t get overwhelmed
Know that team conflict is normal. You’re not always going to be on the same page, and that’s OK. So, try not to get too frustrated. (It won’t help anything anyway.)
Take a deep breath and remind yourself — and everyone else, if it’s appropriate — that these kinds of things happen once in a while. You’ll find your way to a solution eventually. Don’t worry. You just have to take this process a step at a time. Remember that having a relaxed and positive attitude will help you get there.
2. Clearly define the problem
Once you realize you’re at an impasse, take a moment to step back and fully assess the situation. It’s time for some group problem-solving. Start by identifying the problem. What is it, exactly, that your team needs to accomplish? Next, allow everyone to express their thoughts and feelings on the matter. Be sure to talk through these ideas in a clear and logical way. Allow time for folks to ask questions.
By the time you’ve completed this step, you have likely begun to develop a list of potential solutions. Clearly defining the challenge, and the potential fixes, in this way could help bring your group to a consensus. But, if it doesn’t, you’ll at least be on some common ground about what the challenge is and you’ll have settled collectively on a few clear options regarding how to move forward.
Keep in mind that clarity is key here. Take notes, send emails, or otherwise commit your process to writing. And share all information freely with members of the team. It will help a lot if you can agree upon potential solutions, if even you disagree about the best one, and if you can employ shared terminology and language around those options.
Think of clear and open communication as a prerequisite for solving this team conflict. Be intentional as you define the problem and the available options.
3. Understand the meaning of compromise
At some point in your career, you may have come across the idea that a good compromise is one that leaves all parties feeling disappointed. That’s not the case. While trying to find a solution that makes everyone happy may be setting the bar a little high, you can also do better than leaving everyone feeling bummed out. There are other ways to think about compromise.
“A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.’” — Barack Obama
Yes, your team needs to be willing to bend in order to reach a solution. Everyone’s mind needs to be open. But, you also have to believe that there’s a chance to come to a satisfying resolution to your team conflict. Everyone might not be thrilled about where you land. But, they can feel content about it and appreciate the wisdom and logic. That’s a great direction in which to aim your efforts.
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4. Don’t waste time (or try to bond) by complaining
One of the best things you can do to stop yourself from feeling overwhelmed or hopeless when you’re stuck in conflict is to be conscious of the way you talk about the problem. It’s tempting to complain about what you’re going through to others. But, bonding over a shared hardship will probably just reinforce the problem. It won’t do much, if anything at all, to help you find a solution. And, it will almost certainly drag down the mood.
When you bond with work pals over a shared difficulty, “you create an echo chamber that reinforces negative perceptions and the feeling of powerlessness. If your pals are all grousing too, you’re digging yourself further into the hole,” said Dorie Clark, author and teacher at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, speaking with Forbes.
So, don’t waste time lamenting your predicament. These kinds of things happen from time to time. Complaining won’t help you get through it any easier or any faster. Stay positive and optimistic instead.
5. Be open to changing your mind
It might seem like giving in and accepting a compromise, or changing your position, would be a sign of weakness. After you’ve argued a point for a while, it can be difficult to turn back. But, realize that being willing to change your position — or even just meet someone halfway — really makes you the bigger person.
Being able to admit that you’ve changed your mind, or simply being willing to give someone else’s idea a try, is a sign of strength. But, it isn’t easy to let things go. So, you might need to demonstrate to others, through your example, how it’s done.
6. Apply sibling logic
Sometimes, complex problems call for sophisticated solutions. Other times, simple is best. You may find yourself hearkening back to the wisdom of your youth in order to solve the problem. Some of the principles you applied to help you solve problems as a kid are still relevant today.
Did you grow up with a sibling? If so, think back to how you handled it when you needed to work something out between you. For example, imagine that your grandmother gives you and your sister the last cookie in the batch to share between you. How do you do it? Many a sibling pair have arrived at the same arrangement: One person splits and the other person picks. You separate the cookie into two equal parts, and your sister picks which of the pieces she wants and you get the other.
You can still apply this strategy as a grown-up and with more complicated challenges that aren’t based on splitting something equally. For example, one side or group can propose two or three solutions that they could live with, and the other side picks which of those options they prefer. Or, one member of the group can split a task up into sections. Then, individuals can select which aspect of the project to take on or lead.
7. Remember, you’re not committing for life
It may help to remind everyone (including yourself) that you aren’t marrying the solution. In other words, you don’t have to commit to any one strategy forever. You can try an approach for a while and then reevaluate things before deciding how to continue.
Perhaps it makes sense to focus on what you’re going to do for the next month, or the next three months. Instead of deciding on a plan, think of it as coming to a conclusion about what you’ll do for the next small bit of time. Commit to meeting again to reassess at the end of that period. This might help folks to bend a bit. After all, you can try something out for a while and see how it goes. Remembering that you’re not committing for life, and reminding others of this too, can help you come to an agreement and move forward.
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